Tyrone Washington holds Ritcheousness. / Nadia Shira Cohen
Many of the hundreds of low-cost motels Florida house not tourists, but impoverished families who moved to the Sunshine State for jobs in the tourism industry and found that things did not work out as hoped.
"Many thought finding work in Florida would be easier and there is a perception that expenses cost less down here." says Beth Davalos, Director of Families in Transition, an organization in Seminole County that helps homeless families.
Florida's unemployment rate was slightly higher than the national average in December, and the state had the nation's highest foreclosure rate in 2012, according to RealtyTrac. A housing boom that went bust is still causing problems.
"Unskilled workers tend to flock to Florida when construction is booming," says Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities.
While job creation has been rising, many are still out of work and seeking the lowest cost spot for a home, like rooms at the Remington Inn in Altamonte Springs in northern Orlando just off Interstate 4.
The motel is in in the area surrounding Disney World, where counties saw 11.5% unemployment in January 2010. The rate has declined significantly since then.
On one strip of highway just steps from Florida's famous theme parks, an estimated 500 families are living in motels, according to Davalos.
Many migrated to Florida when the construction industry peaked in 2006 to 2008.
"Of those that stayed, many went to work in the retailing and hospitality sectors, while others remained unemployed for long periods of time," Vitner said.
Prostitution and drug dealing have been known to cause problems at some of the aging motels. Families with children sometimes lack decent kitchens so proper nutrition can be an issue.
The rate of homeless families in Florida increased by 12% last year; 8% of the families are living in motels, according to the Department of Education. The Cruz family is one such case.
Janet and Juan Cruz met at Disney World. Janet buffed the floors and Juan worked the night shift as a security guard. Today they are out of full-time work in a motel with their three children.
"I consider myself homeless." Janet Cruz said.
Ginevra Cutcher got a motel room at the Suburban Inn in Altamonte Springs but she and her husband, who has juvenile diabetes, couldn't pay the rent and wound up staying for a time in some woods nearby.
"My son Landon thought we were camping," she said, trying not to cry.
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